OMAHA -- LaDon Stennis speaks matterof-factly when telling the story of what other people are calling heroics: his actions in helping a critically wounded Omaha police officer.
Sitting on his motorcycle in front of his house Friday, speaking in even tones, Stennis described the scene Wednesday night: the gunfire he heard; the officer -- likely already wounded -- running across the street in front of him; and how he wheeled the bike into position between the officer lying twisted on the curb and the shooter.
"What he did was second nature," said Stennis' sister, Christine Merrell. "He knew as soon as he saw (Officer Paul Latschar) on the ground he had a responsibility to get involved."
That comes from how their mother, Emma Pearl Stennis, raised her eight children, Merrell said. She said their mother used to tell them, "When God blesses you, you're supposed to bless others."
Merrell said her mother, who died at 80 in 2006, practiced that. She moved her family, which then included only the oldest children, from Mississippi to Omaha in the 1950s and encouraged other families to follow them. She helped new arrivals find jobs and put up families in her house, where LaDon now lives, until they got on their feet, Merrell said.
LaDon Stennis recalled more of his mother's advice: "You don't look down on a man unless you plan on picking him up."
Wednesday night, Stennis , 45, did just that.
He was riding eastbound on Camden Avenue when he heard "a lot of gunfire" as he approached the stop sign at 42nd Street. "Had I made a left turn onto 42nd, I would have been in the middle of it."
He looked and saw Latschar running across Camden, then stopping and turning. "He (Latschar) shot back maybe six times." Then the officer collapsed.
Stennis asked Latschar if he was OK.
"Right then, there was more gunfire. When it stopped, I went across the street on my bike. I put a block between him and where the gunfire was coming from. . . . I had to do something more for him," Stennis said.
Latschar "looked pretty strong" at first, Stennis said. "He was able to talk still and called 911."
Shots were still being fired, even though the shooter undoubtedly could see that Latschar was down, Stennis said.
Stennis picked up Latschar and cushioned his head as they waited for police cruisers and a rescue squad.
He watched as the first cruisers came up 42nd. But they turned west onto Camden rather than east. Stennis figures the officers didn't see him and the wounded officer in the dark. So he stood up, hoping the officers would spot him.
"By that time (Latschar) was not breathing that well," Stennis said. "I had to let him go because I was trying to get some attention."
He could have avoided it all by riding away. Why didn't he?
"I'm not really a scared type of guy," Stennis said. "I saw him go down, and I couldn't leave him."
On Friday, he described his actions only as "that little bit I put into it."
And he credited his mother.
"She wanted us to do the right thing," he said with a little smile breaking.